November 28, 2011
What, the NBA lockout’s over? Seriously?
Well, sort of. There are still some ‘I’s to be dotted and ‘T’s to be crossed, but for all intents and purposes, there should be NBA basketball this year. And not only that, but the plan is to play 66 games, meaning it’s practically a full season.
With college football winding down, that’s good news indeed. So what can we look for this year in the NBA?
10. Will any guys stay overseas? A good number of NBA players dabbled in the international game, playing in various leagues overseas. It’s not likely we’ll see major stars remain over there, and ones with contracts will have to come back, but what about free agents? Could some of them stay and make a bit more money than they could here? I think it’s possible, but don’t expect it to become a trend … especially this year. With the possibility of a shortened training camp, we could see plenty of guys come in out of shape and even a few more injuries than normal. There should be lots of opportunities for free agents to come in and play right away, and NBA teams will be looking to persuade them to play in the States.
9. Can the Mavs repeat? This question gets asked of the NBA champion every year. Can they? Sure. Will they? Eh, who knows? One thing we do know, though, is that repeating in any professional sport is difficult. Add playing in the difficult Western Conference, and the chances are good that Dallas might not even get back to the NBA Finals.
8. How much noise will the Knicks make? New York has the sport’s newest trio of superstars with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Amare Stoudamire. Having acquired Anthony in the middle of last season, this will be the first full year with all three players. Playing in the Eastern Conference will help, and it’s hard not to see this team right up there with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics. The Knicks should at least contend for the conference title.
7. Which rookies will create a stir? The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams will almost assuredly have decent seasons. But the most intriguing prospect to me is the Washington Wizards’ Jan Vesely, who was taken sixth in this year’s NBA Draft. At 21, he’s got the equivalent of three seasons worth of college experience playing overseas, so he should be a bit more polished than one-and-done players. He also was arguably the top international player in the Draft and one of the most athletic players as well. He’s known as a good defender and should be able to step in and contribute right away.
6. Are the Bulls for real? Last season, no one outside of Chicago expected the Bulls to come away with the NBA’s top record. But that’s exactly what happened as Derrick Rose led them to 62 wins. We know the Bulls should be good this season, but how far can their defense-first approach carry them in the playoffs? Time will tell.
5. Is Kevin Durant the NBA’s best player? Having won the last two scoring titles, it’s easy to make an argument that Durant is the most prolific offensive talent in the NBA. But best overall player is an entirely different category, and, until he at least gets to a Finals as Lebron and Kobe have, I’ll lean towards saying no.
4. What effect will the lockout have on the season? As I said earlier, I think we could see some out of shape and rusty players early on this NBA season. But more importantly, the lockout probably favors the veteran teams a bit. Cutting 16 games off of the NBA schedule is a big deal and veterans such as Tim Duncan and Steve Nash will probably be grateful for the extra rest they’ve had. Those teams could have more gas in the tank than usual come playoff time.
3. Can Kobe win another ring? The Lakers were ousted unceremoniously by the Dallas Mavericks last year. With Kobe and Los Angeles a year older, do they still have another title run in them? I think so. Pau Gasol is still pretty young, and with Kobe, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest Metta World Peace, there’s plenty of firepower on that team.
2. Is the nation ready to embrace LeBron? The Heat played one of the biggest heel roles since some guy named Darth ran around in a cape using the Force to choke the living daylights out of people. But a year later, will the hatred be gone? I’m guessing not. Folks were critical about how Bron Bron left Cleveland, and Miami’s triumvirate of stars are likely to still hear about it when the Heat are playing on the road (especially those games in Cleveland). I imagine things would have been even worse if the Heat had won the title this Spring, but I believe many NBA fans are just not ready to forgive yet. Which leads us to…
1. Can the Heat win the title? In a word, yes. They were close last year, reaching the NBA Finals after struggling early in the season. The Heat do have an advantage in the East where the competition top to bottom isn’t as strong as out West. The talent’s there, and having reached the NBA Finals last year, so is the experience. All they’ve got to do is put it all together.
If only it were that easy.
October 24, 2011
With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.
So the question is, ‘can it work?’
No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:
1. Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
2. Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.
3. Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…
4. Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.
August 10, 2011
No fan, player, coach, or front office wishes for a lockout to place. It’s counterproductive for each party, mainly because no one gets paid. But most people involved realized the NBA is not a recreational league – it’s a business. And when you’re able to come to grips with the fact you’re dealing with a company and a union, with different interests in mind, a lockout is expected from time to time. It’s the nature of the animal.
Hopefully after all is said and done, whosever interests are satisfied, the fans are included. To say we’re suffering may be an overstatement, but from an entertainment point, it certainly feels that way. To go from increasingly exciting NBA games, rising exponentially from January through June, to nearly nothing resembling organized basketball, is the equivalent of watching the Godfather, then Godfather 2, then being subjected to Godfather 3. It’s awful, frustrating, and somewhat perplexing the powers that be would allow this to happen.
But hey, it’s not all bad. Just because the NBA is on hiatus, doesn’t mean the sport of basketball has been put on pause. The NBA players we’ve come to know and love, courtesy of the very NBA they can’t cooperate with at the moment, have begun showing up in seemingly random exhibition and pick up games.
Streetball courts across the nation in Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Baltimore have been injected with new life by understandably bored NBA players. When you grow up playing basketball, likely being touted as a hoop prodigy from early on, you get used to ballin constantly. It’s all you know. A league-wide lockout isn’t going to stop you. And for young players, you don’t want a work stoppage to get in the way of your development. So we’ve seen NBA players like Brandon Jennings, Javale McGee, James Harden and even Michael Beasley hit the public courts to put their skills on display.
The most notable NBA player to make on-court headlines this summer, though, has been Kevin Durant. In the past, the rising superstar gained notoriety due to his sweet jump shot and modest mentality. But some out there, including myself, questioned his toughness. In general, he seemed soft compared to other players. But the lockout has showed NBA fanboys, like myself, another side of KD that has only enhanced our blooming man crushes.
Once a week, Durant shows up on the sports blog of your choice in a new highlight, in a new city, on a new court. In the past week alone, he’s gone on a tour of New York City by unleashing a barrage of threes at Rucker Park to total 66 points, a 41 point outburst at the Nike Pro City game while silencing a heckler, abused Michael Beasley at the Dyckman League, and threw down this monstrous dunk at the Melo League. The dude just likes to play basketball.
Durant’s Pro-Am tour is a lead up to the epic showdown of Washington, DC’s Goodman league and Los Angeles’s Drew league on August 20th at Trinity College in DC. KD’s gone back to his childhood stomping grounds each summer to hoop it up, but this year is something different. He’s helped organize a East vs. West matchup riddled with young NBA talent, including John Wall, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Beasley, DeMarcus Cousins, Harden, Jennings, DeMar DeRozen, and McGee.
Being a DC native, I’m extremely excited for this game. I’ve never been to a street game and have always wanted to go – and this has the potential to be the best of all time. I want the NBA lockout to end, but if it were to conclude before the game, I’d be very disappointed. Goodman vs. Drew isn’t something that would happen during peace times in the NBA.
Streetball has its allure. All the flashy and visually exciting parts of basketball are magnified – fast breaks, dunking, absurd trick plays, etc. It has its place as an offseason sideshow, but it doesn’t have the same prolonged substance of organized basketball. As much as we argue for and against rules, referee calls, and player movement, it’s what turns basketball into more than a game, but a form of general entertainment. Please NBA lockout, cease to exist in the near future. But not before the ultimate showdown on August 20.
June 9, 2011
Shaq was arguably one of the most animated NBA players of all time. Throughout his 19 year career, the dominating center was rarely shy with media, offering up various analogies and nicknames for himself and others. He named himself “Shaq Diesel”, the “Big Aristotle,” and the “Big Deporter,” and named Dwayne Wade “Flash.”
Now that the “Big Shamrock” has decided to call it quits, one may suspect the large exit to include an evacuation of hilariously awesome nicknames. Not true. They may not be contained within one large man anymore, instead scattered around the league, but they’re still there. You just have to look.
A rising star in his sophomore season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden has a nickname that fits. “The Beard,” given due to Harden’s monstrously profuse beard, has an old school flavor that matches his old school game. Harden never seems to be moving as quick as the other NBA players, but still finds a way to make plays and get to the rim. Much like his nickname, “The Beard” wreaks of simple confidence, conjuring up images of Earl “The Pearl” Washington. He provided a spark plug off the bench for the Thunder in the second half of the season and during their playoff run. Was it because of the beard? I can confidently say, yes.
Baron Davis earned his much more modern nickname during his early career, with menacing open court vision and thunderous dunks – his UCLA highlight reel is especially tantalizing. Boom Dizzle has had an up down career, reaching All-Star teams but suffering lows at every stop – clashing with Byron Scott in New Orleans, leaving Golden State after a rift with the front office, not performing up to par with the Clippers (although that’s not his fault), and landing with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. As a fan, I’ve been impressed with the Boom Dizzle that arrived at the trading deadline, and as a longtime fan, I’m excited for his expectedly short tenure with the team. If Dan Gilbert is willing to pay him the next few years to give me the ability to scream “BOOM DIZZLE” a few times a game, I’m a happy man.
The Human Victory Cigar
The few players before this one may have had somewhat obvious nicknames. But this one is rarity. Awesome on many levels. First, because it’s long. Second, because it is well thought out and creative. Third, it exemplifies winning. And fourth, because it almost seems like it belongs to the wrong player. You’d think it would be one of the greats, like Robert Horry—but no, he’s Big Shot Bob. Or Michael Jordan even, due to his affinity for dominating and cigars, but no. Who owns it you say? The infamous former number two overall pick, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Darko Milicic.
Of course, Milicic was branded this way because in his first few NBA seasons he was only inserted into the game when his team, the Pistons, had already locked up the win. His 40 seconds of playing time meant that Detroit was up by 20 points and there was absolutely no chance of its opponent coming back. Since those first years in the league, “The Human Victory Cigar” has garnered his fair share of negative media attention, and somehow managed to simultaneously become a sort of counter culture hero. And that counter culture is the likely source of one of the best nicknames in the NBA. Cheers to you, underground back up power forward fan club.
May 31, 2011
The recently retired Phil Jackson is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history. But the simple fact is that he should be clearly viewed at the top of that list. His most fierce competition for that top spot comes from former NBA team Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach, so for the sake of argument, I’ll compare the two.
For starters, Phil simply won more. His eleven titles beat Auerbach’s nine and while that’s not the only thing that matters, it’s a great place to begin.
Now the talent – ah, yes. We hear it all the time from misguided fans – ‘Phil had MJ and Kobe – who wouldn’t win with those two?’ Well, Doug Collins, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Del Harris, actually. Seriously though, Phil’s detractors love to point out that he won his titles with four of the best NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Scottie Pippen. While that’s true, it’s also important to point out that none of those players won titles under other coaches.
The amusing thing is that it’s not only arguable that Red Auerbach had more talent, it’s likely. In 1996, the NBA named its famous ’50 at 50’ – the top fifty NBA players in history. While this was a subjective list, it’s difficult to find many problems with the selections. Red won his 11 titles with six of those players on his rosters, while Phil had the aforementioned four.
A deeper look shows that Auerbach had an even greater advantage, though.
His championships were won with many of those NBA players on any given team. Auerbach never won a single championship with fewer than three top 50 players at one time – and many years, his teams boasted four such stars. Jackson, on the other hand, never had more than two on the same squad.
Further, Auerbach also had plenty of other talent outside of those top 50 players. During his championship seasons, Red coached many other Hall of Famers not on that list including Tommy Heinsohn (who should be, by the way), Frank Ramsey, Arnie Risen, K.C. Jones, and Clyde Lovellette. His 1962-63 NBA team featured eight Hall of Famers, for crying out loud. In 1960-61, seven of the Celtics eleven players were Hall of Famers. With that type of talent, it’s probably amazing they managed to lose as many games as they did.
Phil Jackson’s other Hall of Famers on championship teams other than his duos of Jordan/Pippen and Kobe/Shaq? Maybe Dennis Rodman, who helped the Bulls win three – that’s it. Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, A.C. Green, and Horace Grant were all fine supplementary players, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In other words, Phil managed to win his titles with talent that was significantly more diluted.
Sure, the obvious thing to point out is that the league, as a whole, had stronger teams in the 1950s and 1960s because there were fewer of them. Thus, more stars ended up on each team as a result. Still (and with all due respect to the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles Lakers), no franchise has boasted such talent over such a prolonged period of time. Auerbach was playing with a stacked deck and while winning nine championships with anybody is flat out unbelievable, it’s clear he had more aces than Phil.
So Phil won more titles with less overall talent than Red. But there’s more.
Jackson won his titles with two different franchises, proving that he could take completely different collections of players to the pinnacle. Not only did he help Jordan get over the top, he took an immature Bryant and turned him into the best thing since, well, Jordan.
Then there’s the ‘what if’ factor. What if MJ had the hindsight to realize hitting minor-league curveballs wasn’t as easy as he thought and played full seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96? What if Kobe and Shaq did their best Oscar and Felix impersonations and coexisted as an odd couple for several more years? What if the Bulls’ management didn’t take winning for granted and brought Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson back for more runs? It’s conceivable that Phil walks away with 15 titles … or more.
Lastly, consider the fact that today’s players make much more money and are far more difficult to control. Auerbach had it a lot easier with less media attention, fewer egos to deal with, less agents causing a stir, and generally, less headaches. In all, the pressure to win was not as great with far less money to be made.
When you add it all up, not only was Phil a better coach, it’s not all that close.